Belgians Bid U.S. Adieu In World Cup's Knockout Round
In its first game in the knockout round, the U.S. soccer team played Belgium. The Americans defied expectations by escaping group play, but they've now been eliminated with a loss against Belgium. For more, Melissa Block turns to George Quraishi of Howler Magazine.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
OK, here's your World Cup spoiler alert. For the next four minutes, we're going to be talking about the match that's underway at this hour between the United States and Belgium. This is now the round of 16. Each team must win or go home. Right now it's half-time at the stadium in Salvador, Brazil, and the score is 0-0. Joining us to talk about the match so far, George Quraishi. He's editor of the quarterly magazine about soccer, Howler. George, welcome to the program.
GEORGE QURAISHI: Hi, Melissa. Thank you.
BLOCK: And does this score reflect the balance of play that you've seen so far?
QURAISHI: Not quite.
BLOCK: Not so much.
QURAISHI: Yeah, Belgium's had a few more chances. But, you know, in classic U.S. fashion, we're hanging in there, clawing our way into the game. And, you know, 0-0 is not a bad place to be for the U.S. right now.
BLOCK: Well, what are you seeing? How would you describe the opponents here?
QURAISHI: Belgium, they have such skillful players. They have a really great rhythm in the attack. They like to get the balls up the wings and really put pressure on the U.S. - build the pressure and really make us bunker in. The U.S. is having a little bit of trouble trying to get out of a defense and get a breather for the defenders who are dealing with those attacks.
BLOCK: And if you compare this game in the knockout round to their last game in the group stage against Germany - of course, the stakes different then, right? There were various scenarios by which they could keep going. How would you compare the style of play in that game and what you're seeing from the U.S. team today?
QURAISHI: You know, it's - the U.S., really, we're pretty scrappy no matter what. We don't change a whole lot. But I would say that we're getting a lot more chances than we did against Germany. Germany really had us on the defensive even more than today. And we've had some good chances against Belgium. I've been a little bit surprised. We have some really fast, young players, especially on the right side. We had an injury, and a young guy named DeAndre Yedlin came in and has been doing pretty well - I mean, for a guy in his early 20s. It's his first World Cup. He's pretty fearless, and he's had some good touches. And I think, you know, if we're going to get a goal, it's going to be because he gets up the right side and puts a nice cross in and maybe we find some space and put a goal in.
BLOCK: You're saying we...
BLOCK: Throwing off any pretense of journalistic neutrality, here.
QURAISHI: That's exactly right. You can't - no journalist - if a journalist, anywhere in the world, claims neutrality when their team's playing in the World Cup, they're probably lying.
BLOCK: Fair enough. Fair enough. Now, you mentioned injury. Speaking of injury, there's been a big question about the injured striker, Jozy Altidore, who had a bad hamstring pull in the first game in the group stage against Ghana. He apparently is suited up and ready to play, and the big question is, will he play in this match? What do you think?
QURAISHI: I think it's likely if the game stays close and we get up to maybe 60 minutes in, 70 minutes in. That would mean there are 20 minutes left in regulation. You know, we could very possibly see him come in. We don't have another player like him - a big, strong forward who can receive the ball and fend off the Belgian defenders while the rest of our team sort of catches up, up the field, which is really important. Like I said, when we're on defense the whole time it's really tiring. And you want to have a player who can really give your guys a rest. And that's something that Jozy Altidore does very well.
BLOCK: Does well when he's fully healthy...
QURAISHI: (Laughing) That's right.
BLOCK: And the question would be, how strong is he after that bad injury?
QURAISHI: You know, we don't know. We know that he's healthy enough to be on the bench. Hamstrings have been a really odd thing that the U.S. team has struggled with this tournament. You know, the player who went out today, Fabian Johnson, one of our best players, came out with a hamstring strain. So I'm not sure what's going on there. I know it's hot. I know they're playing a lot of games in just a few days. But, you know, Jozy wouldn't be available, I think, if he weren't able to play. It just depends on how early Jurgen Klinsmann wants to risk it. He only gets three substitutions per game. He's used one already. And this game is a knock-out round game. So if he ends up - if the team ends up going into overtime against Belgium, they're going to need all the fresh legs they can get.
BLOCK: Yeah. And we should mention the winner of this game will go on to play Argentina in the quarterfinals. Argentina beat Switzerland today. But Switzerland put up a pretty good fight, one-nothing.
QURAISHI: Oh, man. They hit the post in the last minute, as well. So they - he could've...
QURAISHI: Yeah, they could've very easily taken it to penalty kicks, and then it's sort of a tossup. Argentina has the best player in the world, in my opinion, Lionel Messi. But they have...
BLOCK: Not just your opinion. (Laughing) A lot of people share that opinion, don't they?
QURAISHI: (Laughing) That's right. That's right. But we've already beaten - or we tied the team with the other best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo. So, you know, if we get there, I think we can do it.
BLOCK: Well, George, thanks for talking to us about the first half of the U.S.-Belgium game. Again, the score at half-time, 0-0. Thank so much.
QURAISHI: Thanks, Melissa.
BLOCK: George Quraishi, founder and editor of the American soccer magazine, Howler. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.